Red Bull’s triple Formula One world champion Max Verstappen took pole position for the Saturday sprint at the U.S. Grand Prix with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc alongside on the front row.
The top three in the “shootout” qualifying for the 19 lap race were separated by just 0.069 of a second, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton third fastest.
The sprint pole was Verstappen’s third in five such races this season.
“I think that final lap was not perfect but it was good enough for pole so that’s of course what matters,” said Verstappen, who clinched his third world championship in Qatar.
“The problem with this beautiful format is that you can’t really change anything on the car,” he said with some sarcasm. “Once you commit to something you’re stuck with it for the rest of the weekend.
“That’s not ideal but we tried to optimise everything we could, what we can control a little bit. I think it was a little bit better today than yesterday.”
Verstappen had his best lap in Friday’s qualifying, good enough for pole, deleted for exceeding track limits and so will start Sunday’s main race in sixth place.
The 26-year-old led the way in Saturday’s final shootout session, with each driver having one run on soft tyres, and set a best time of one minute 34.538 seconds.
McLaren’s Lando Norris looked like he would join the Dutch driver on the front row but Leclerc, who will start Sunday’s race from pole position, went faster with a lap only 0.055 slower than Verstappen.
Hamilton then crossed the line and pushed Norris further back to fourth.
McLaren’s Australian rookie Oscar Piastri, sprint winner in Qatar from pole two weeks ago, was fifth fastest, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz sixth and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez seventh and George Russell eighth for Mercedes.
Russell was later demoted three places for impeding Leclerc, promoting Williams’ Alex Albon to eighth, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly to ninth and AlphaTauri’s Daniel Ricciardo to 10th on the Australian’s comeback from injury.
Only the top eight in the sprint score points.
The governing FIA said it had responded to track limits breaches, after consulting drivers, by widening the white line on the outside of turns nine, 12 and 19 to give a bit of extra margin.